During his visit to Japan on Monday, President Joe Biden asserted that the U.S. will militarily defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion attempt. The U.S. traditionally has avoided making such an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, with which it no longer has a mutual defense treaty.
It was actually the second time since October that White House aides have had to walk back the president’s comments that had appeared to reverse the longtime policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding U.S. willingness to defend the self-governing island. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed U.S. relations with the self-ruling island, does not require the U.S. to respond militarily if China were to invade, but rather it made it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status by Beijing.
“As the President said, our policy has not changed. He reiterated our ‘One China Policy’ and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” a White House official said Monday in a statement, Politico reported. “He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Mr. Biden’s statement didn’t just catch many in his own party off-guard, but likely officials in China, as Beijing maintains that Taiwan is a breakaway province that will be returned to mainland control, and by force if necessary.
On Wednesday, Chinese officials announced that it conducted military drills in the waters around Taiwan.
“The recent patrol and training exercises by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) around the Taiwan Island were necessary actions against the collusion between Taiwan and the United States,” a Chinese defense spokesperson was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, NDTV reported.
The exercises were also meant as “a solemn warning about the recent collusion between the U.S. and Taiwan,” Colonel Shi Yi said via a statement on Wednesday from the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The command, which is headquartered in the eastern city of Nanjing, didn’t say when exactly the exercises had been conducted, however, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Liaoning Carrier Strike Group transited the Miyako Strait earlier this week to the East China Sea after conducting drills in the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea for more than two weeks.
“On the Taiwan issue, the US side says one thing and does another, giving repeated encouragement to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces. This is hypocritical and futile, and will only lead… to a dangerous situation, and it will also face serious consequences,” Shi added.
The government of President Tsai Ing-wen has asserted that Taiwan is already a de facto independent nation – but of course has avoided any official declaration – deserving wider international recognition, Bloomberg reported. The Biden administration has stepped up its backing to support Taipei since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.
Whether this will include a shift from strategic ambiguity to mutual defense has yet to be seen – but Beijing is certainly watching.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.